Ryan Poles

How Ryan Poles will approach Justin Fields-No. 1 pick QB decision that will define tenure

What Ryan Poles does this offseason will define his tenure and determine if the Bears finally break out of their losing cycle

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Ryan Poles understands the opportunity in front of him as Bears general manager.

A year ago, Poles sat at a press conference in Halas Hall, holding the No. 1 pick after a 3-14 season. He said he'd need to be "blown away" to draft a quarterback and move off Justin Fields. In the end, Poles traded the pick in early March to the Carolina Panthers for a haul that included wide receiver DJ Moore and the rights to what became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 draft.

So there Poles sat again Wednesday at Halas Hall, holding the No. 1 pick. But the Bears general manager was clear that while the setup is the same this offseason, the opportunity for the franchise is different.

"We are in information-gathering mode right now," Poles said of the Bears' upcoming quarterback decision. "We are going to turn over every stone to make sure that we are going to make a sound decision for our organization. I did think Justin got better. I think he can lead this team. But at the same time, there’s a unique situation where I have to look, and our staff has to look at everything. And that’s exactly what we’re gonna do."

While it may look similar on the surface, the decision Poles faces this offseason is much different than the one he attacked a year ago.

This year's quarterback class, headlined by Caleb Williams and Drake Maye, is seen as a potentially transformational group. Last year's class, led by Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud, was not viewed in the same light.

The Bears also have another year of data on Fields. He did show growth as a passer, and the Bears love his work ethic and leadership. But he still struggles in the two-minute area and will also be entering Year 4 of his rookie contract. Should the Bears elect to trade the No. 1 pick once again, they'll have to pick up Fields' fifth-year option this spring ($21.9 million) and will be declaring their intent to play him a top-tier quarterback salary when he is up at the end of the 2025 season. Poles said the Bears had not yet made a decision on Fields' fifth-year option.

As exciting as Fields has been at times, it feels like his time in Chicago might be coming to an end. Fields said he had "no regrets" after the Bears' season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers, but said goodbye "just in case" it was his last ride with the franchise.

Poles praised Fields on Wednesday but said he will be open to anything as he begins to do his due diligence on this year's quarterback class.

“I’ll actually go back to last year, and I’ve got to stay open-minded about it," Poles said. "Not to use the same quote, but I want to say I need to be blown away. It’s the same setup because seeing the things that Justin did this year, his ability to make plays, coach talked about some of those improvements, keeping his eyes down the field, taking less sacks, you see a lot of growth there where he can continue to get better.

"So I’ll have the same mindset: someone needs to really show that they can … and it’s not just the film. I need the person. There’s a whole process here that we have to figure out. But what we’re going to do is do what’s best for the organization. I’m sure there’s going to be similar situations in terms of the trade back and I’ve got to weigh all those things to see what’s going to help our team take the next step."

Poles had a chance to take a bold swing Wednesday. With the No. 1 pick in hand, a ton of cap space, and a young roster ready to take off, Poles had an opportunity to clear the deck and select a new coaching staff to be fully aligned with a rookie quarterback. Poles could have taken a big-picture view of everything head coach Matt Eberflus has done in the first two seasons and swung for something bigger.

Instead, Poles elected to retain Eberflus, trusting him to develop a young quarterback should the Bears go that direction. In keeping Eberflus but choosing to fire offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and several offensive staff members, Poles has put the Bears back on a path they know all too well: one with a coach entering a win-now season with a rookie quarterback. They did it with John Fox and Mitch Trubisky, and again with Matt Nagy and Justin Fields.

Poles believes this time, with the roster he built and the Bears' assets, it will be a different story.

But the only thing that can make that true is to get the quarterback decision right.

Whether it's FIelds, Williams, or Maye, the Bears' only way out of the cycle of losing and dysfunction is to ace the test in front of them.

"The person. That's the biggest part," Poles said of evaluating the prospects. "I got a lot of confidence in our ability to see talent on the field. The human being we got to figure out. Especially to be a quarterback in this city. You got to have it right. You got to have toughness to you. You got to have mental toughness. You got to be able to block things out. So, really, I got to find out about the human beings."

As Poles starts a process that will define his tenure as Bears' general manager, it's essential to look back on his decision last offseason and the quarterback he didn't pick in Stroud.

Quarterback evaluation is notoriously difficult. There's an almost 50 percent bust rate among quarterbacks taken in the first round. Of the 45 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 15 drafts from 2008-2022, only 11 could be called as no doubt home run picks.

  • Matt Ryan
  • Joe Flacco
  • Matthew Stafford
  • Cam Newton
  • Andrew Luck
  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Josh Allen
  • Lamar Jackson
  • Joe Burrow
  • Justin Herbert
  • Trevor Lawrence

That's a 24 percent hit rate, and you could argue Lawrence's star is falling.

That being said, Stroud looks like he will be the next one to be added to the list. That's a potential star quarterback. Poles and the Bears either misevaluated or didn't do the proper homework because they were set on keeping Fields. The trade Poles pulled off with the Panthers is a no-doubt win, but it's still important to know his process with Stroud as he prepares to make another critical decision at the quarterback position.

"So there’s a lot of it. There’s the player aspect in terms of the human being and the leadership and their maturity," Poles said when asked about his process evaluating quarterbacks and Stroud in particular. "And that’s the human part, and then there’s the tape. We’ll go through the tape, and we’ll look at processing and accuracy and all of those things to make sure they’re on point to feel the best. There are situations where you go to and you develop and you may overcome some of the shortcomings that you had in college. There are situations where it’s the group around you that elevates you. And the other thing, too, I would also have a little…like the sample size to be blown away in the NFL, like you’ve got to stack year after year after year. So historically we’ll look at those quarterbacks that have been able to be productive for a long period of time and kind of mirror that and compare that to some of the guys in the draft."

Poles did say he didn't feel that he mis-evaluated Stroud. He just felt that what was best for the Bears at the time was to trade the pick for the best offer available.

As far as the decision he faces this offseason, Poles wouldn't shoot down any possibility, including keeping Fields and drafting a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick.

"So my brain has gone crazy all year just thinking about the million different scenarios," Poles said. "And I’m sure that’s one of them. I’ll just stay very wide open with the different paths that we go, and as we collect information, if that closes some of those pathways down, then we’ll do that and move to some of the other ones, but I’m going to be wide open about this."

Poles has to be completely open as he enters a defining offseason for both himself and the Bears. He has built a quality roster, and there is excitement in league circles about the opportunity that is in front of the NFL's charter franchise. Everyone awaits the decision that will dictate the path traveled next.

It's one that will determine whether Poles is the champion the Bears need to break the cycle of losing, or just another in a long line of general managers who arrived in Chicago with a plan but never found the one piece needed to make it all work.

The quarterback.

Whether that's Fields, Williams, or Maye, Poles has to get it right. It's the only thing that can get the Bears out of a losing cycle they've been trapped in for decades.

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